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The demise of General Aviation in Greece

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The demise of General Aviation in Greece

by John Faraclas

I have been closely following the tremendous efforts that the present government of Greece has been making to develop the Greek economy amidst the severe situations of the pandemic and the inheritance received by the previous left-wing government, at a time when Greece had arrived at, and luckily escaped from, the unforgettable non-return point of Grexit.

This website has also been following the efforts in the development of thematic tourism in Greece, given that tourism is the second biggest non-public industry of the country, after merchant shipping, of course. In particular, as an ex-aviation enthusiast myself, I have been following the attempts to grow the thematic tourism, called aviation tourism for the last 20 years and only recently (7th of January 2022), I made pertinent comments in a well-known TV channel with planet ocean coverage.

It was this website 4 years ago, which condemned the sale/leasing of the 14 state-owned airports to the well-known Greek-German company called Fraport or Fraport Greece. A quick wiki-look in the web, as well as a casual read in the concession agreement’s terms and conditions between the then Greek government and the subject private company, and one can easily understand that this deal was more about “awarding” the airports to Fraport rather than “leasing” them. And while this deal became all about Fraport profit maximisation, which is certainly not a sin in the Protestant world, (“as long as everybody is happy”), one may not forget that, except EasyJet and Ryanair type of airlines, there is a small, big world of private light aircraft and jets, whose pilots dream of visiting and exploring Greece in this alternative manner, called “aviation tourism”. This is an 80 billion euros industry in Europe, which Fraport Greece together with government submissiveness mixed with profound ignorance, have simply not only failed to ignite it but are simply not interested in a piece of this pie. The recipe is simple: Sort-of monopolist Fraport Greece, increased the landing and parking fees by more than 10 times, and effectively discouraged all private, non-commercial light aircraft, whose pilots are the owners, operators, renters and passengers at the same time, from visiting the 14 Greek islands.  Instead, Fraport maximised EasyJet and Ryanair type of low-cost airline arrivals, which in turn maximised the total revenue per aircraft slot. Unsupervised by the ignorant state, Fraport could not care less about the quality of the arriving tourism, caring only about whatever happens within the airport fence revenue-wise. It is well known and proven that the spending power of passengers, who elect to fly privately, is at least 10 times higher than that of one passenger of low-cost airlines. For example, during the Fraport years, several Greek islands have seen a massive increase of touristic arrivals but only a fraction in the total overall percentage revenue increase. The disproportionately lower percentage increase of revenue is not an oxymoron, it is simply attributed to the quality of tourism and the visitors’ spending power that one needs to consider.

In addition to the arrival of higher quality of tourism, there are numerous benefits in developing general aviation: Training of new pilots, more efficient transportation of people in a country of many remote islands, aircraft maintenance and related jobs, more efficient social work through transportation of doctors and medicines to a network of remote places, exposure of society to modern technology and last but not least, development of a significant element of modern civilisation.

Talking to general aviation pilots, both in Greece and in Europe, I did get the message that some efforts still do take place to promote aviation tourism in Greece. The Greek branch of AOPA, AOPA Hellas, the Hellenic Pilots Association and the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority through its chief, have managed to preach to parts of the society and to the politicians through all sorts of media, about the opportunities and benefits that aviation tourism can bring into Greece however, the efforts is not enough. Indeed, there have been some successful, historic organised European fly-ins, including one in Kalamata airport in 2016 with 40 European light aircraft arriving in one single day and even post Covid last October, with 11 European light aircraft, touring altogether the Greek islands, crossing the Aegean Sea and even reaching the remote Kastelorizo. Yet Greece still ranks as last in the European Union, in terms of avation tourism attractiveness, even behind Bulgaria. Unless Fraport refrains from profiteering from light aircraft fees, treating them as airliners, and until the civil servants of the regional state operated airports work for more than a few hours a day, that is, by opening up the airports’ hours of operation from sunrise to sunset, and not only when a commercial airline arrives at their airport, which may be once a day, any fly-ins and pertinent activities and any relevant  efforts, organised by whomever, will just fail miserably. This is a shame in a country of 300 days of sunshine, sea, rivers, lakes, mountains and an unprecedented multitude of islands. Without exaggeration, Greece is simply one of the best areas in the world for light aircraft traveling.

So, while even the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority, a state organisation, well known as monumentally bureaucratic, has recently “seen the light” and its Chief has partaken in the efforts to make the Greek state airports more attractive to the private pilots of light aircraft and small jets, the problem is still not solved because it is a fundamental mentality management problem. Unless there is a clear government strategy communicated to all, any efforts will be left to the “filotimo” of responsible individuals, who may happen to be in the right post at the right time, in order to push Greece one step forward.

A recent example, I was told, is the airport of Tatoi in the north of Athens (Dekeleia Airbase). It is a military airport, which also hosts, at least four Aeroclubs at its northern part, since 1960. It is the longest non-stop operational airport in Greece, dating far before the second world war. More than 30 light aircraft currently possess their base in Tatoi. Last year, all of a sudden, it was announced by the military airport authorities, that general avation flights would be limited to a few hours of flying during the weekends and a couple of hours for only two weekdays after 5:30 in the afternoon. During all the other hours and days, it would be simply forbidden for any light aircraft to fly, whatsoever. Furthermore, during the wintertime when the sun sets earlier than 5:30 in the afternoon, light aircraft would not be able to fly at all because the airport will be closed due to sunset happening before 5:30, that is, the airport closes before it opens! This is a unique, unprecedented, (excuse my French) “idiocité” . The new suddenly imposed timetable brought General Aviation activity to a halt; The Aeroclubs arrived one step from bankruptcy, including the historic Aeroclub of Athens, as there are not enough flying hours for the instructors to be paid for, while the other non-trainer private aircraft can hardly fly anywhere else, or they will not be able to return to their base before the airport closes. Questioning the hellenic airforce authorities about the obvious, such as why forbid light aircraft based in Tatoi airport to fly, to our utmost surprise, we heard a bit more of that “idiocité”: (1). “Aircraft make a noise and may disturb the neighbours of the airport” and/or (2). “The guys and girls in the military control tower get tired with too much traffic to handle”. There is no point in commenting on the above arguments, as these are simply fake excuses, (light aircraft make far less noise than a passing motorcycle). It would only suffice to say that when challenging the authorities, their response was “take it or leave it”. Based on witnesses and to my ultimate disappointment as well as surprise, it appeared that even the top echelon of the Hellenic Air Force, supported this style of affairs without caring about the fate of the historic Aeroclubs, the training they have been providing to so many pilots in Greece since 1960. Such attitudes stigmatize the otherwise heroic Hellenic Airforce, which, once upon a time, supported General Aviation and pioneered its renaissance. So, what happens when aircraft stay still on the ground for long periods of time together with their pilots’ eventual inadequacy of currency and increased propensity to accidents? Is it really that the local Hellenic Airforce not interested in flight safety? What about Aviation Tourism? Of course, aviation tourism together with any pertinent government efforts clearly go out of the window.

So, unfortunately, this is Greece internal. A game of snakes and ladders. 10 steps ahead, 20 steps astern and you only need a good dice to move forward. Incapable civil servants,  misaligned with the benefits of the country, lack of meritocracy, classic abuse of power and all “responsible” civil servants / military people, forgetting that their salaries are paid from the Greek taxpayers money. This would include the nice fast and noisy aircraft they fly and the massive amounts of fuel they consume. Of course, military’s job is to protect the country from the enemy and of course, they have our ultimate respect for that. Would this however justify individual’s actions and their liberty to abuse their power on the civilians who are otherwise meant to protect? Let’s hope that, as usual, in a miraculous way, the new year developments will bypass all those power-abusing individuals negating the efforts of the few Don Quixotes, pushing the massive inertia of this otherwise small country into the future.

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1 comment

Man Minadakis January 11, 2022 - 4:55 PM

This was one of the reasons we were forced to sell recently our TB20
Actually we were owning a car that values several thousand of euro but the country does block all the roads to our car
There are also several restrictions in the main general aviation airport LGMG on Megara . We couldn’t fly from there for several different reasons each time
Parachute jumping (just 500 m from the runway), heavy traffic in the tma zone (4 Vfr aircraft), wind over the cross wind factor of the plane (🤪)
So if we plan to block off at 09:00 in order to land 10:30 for example in milos island we where receiving a block for one of the above reasons in LGMG. As a result we were allowed to TO at 10:30 and we were cancelling the flight (not enough time to reach Milos in the airports operating hrs)

In general

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